YMCA opens at Summerville's Ponds
In some rural places, communities come together for a barn-raising. The Summerville YMCA and The Ponds subdivision have worked together to see if a barn can raise a community.
Assuming all goes as planned, the YMCA at The Ponds will begin full operations Monday at its new $5.2 million facility, whose architecture resembles a barn and silo.
"We're excited. We're ready to open this up to the community. It is a gorgeous building that the community is going to be excited to use," said YMCA Executive Director Gary Lukridge. "It's kind of a throwback to the barn. When you see it, it relaxes you. We wanted to blend in. It's not just a big box. It has some character."
The new building, designed by architect Rush Dixon, sits on 8 acres of land donated by Greenwood Communities and Resorts, which is developing the subdivision. The developer contributed the $1 million parcel of land plus $3 million toward the construction costs. It was a gift that practically came from nowhere for the YMCA in 2005.
"It was quite a shock and quite a surprise," said John Rhoden, who was the executive director at the time before recently becoming CEO of the YMCA of Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach and Georgetown. "They approached (former board member) John Tupper and they got to talking and I think that's how it came about."
John Morgan, project director at The Ponds, said the gift fit into the overall plan for the subdivision. He said Greenwood Communities wanted to create a place where residents had several amenities within walking distance. The subdivision's plan also made room for a fire station, amphitheater and shopping area.
"We thought it would be a win-win situation to do what we did," Morgan said. "We would have typically built a large community center here anyway. We decided real early that we could, in essence, build the same type of center and enjoy their infrastructure. It was very important to be a part of the Summerville community, so it was a great way to make the connection."
Rhoden said it still was hard to imagine at the time that someone was willing to provide so much for the YMCA.
The YMCA has come a long way in the past eight years. Just a decade ago, it operated out of a small building at its Oakbrook location, where the primary function was recreation sports, a summer swimming program and after-school child care. Revenue was generated through pay-as-you-go services and profits from the Flowertown Festival. Rhoden said there were times when the staff had to be careful of what bills to pay to make sure checks would clear.
In 2002, the YMCA purchased the former Coca-Cola bottling plant downtown and turned it into the H.P. Compton Wellness Center. For the first time, the YMCA was able to charge a membership fee as it expanded its offerings to include fitness classes, a small indoor pool and exercise equipment. It was a popular move.
"We had hoped to reach 1,000 (memberships) at about 18 months, and we hit that at six," he said. "The membership fee gives a nice, flat revenue stream. That's what really turned the corner for the Y."
Now, it's time to turn another corner. With the creation of its location at The Ponds, the YMCA might be able to alleviate some of the overcrowding at the downtown location. Lukridge said the YMCA serves about 10,000 members, and it could grow to about 11,000 by the end of the year.
"That is significant for a market of about 60,000," he said. "Most Y's get a single-digit percentage of its market. We're well above that."
The new location is expected to appeal to residents around the north ends of Dorchester Road and S.C. Highway 61. It also might siphon off some of the patrons of the downtown facility, which Lukridge said is bursting at the seams.
"Obviously, with the economy the way it is, there is some trepidation that we have enough to fill it. People on that side of Summerville really wanted a YMCA there," Lukridge said. "There's always growing pains. We expect there will be some bumps in the road. We're serving more kids, more families. Reaching out to more people. That's OK. Those things tend to work out."
Also, one of the best additions is the new basketball court, and the YMCA will have a youth basketball program for the first time in about a decade.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 15," Lukridge said. "Basketball was invented at the Y, so to bring it back here is exciting. This will be for adults, too. We'll be able to have lunchtime basketball games.
"It's not only basketball, but we can have volleyball and indoor soccer. We've got a lot of uses we can have with that gym."
For now, the YMCA has a new facility to grow into, but it's not too early to begin looking at the future.
"The board and I have discussed that we need to put a strategic plan together because we have grown so much in the last seven to eight years since this facility opened," Lukridge said. "We need to know what we want to be in the next five years."
"As we continue to grow, we need to be very focused on what we want to do and what we want to look like. It's not just what the staff wants and the board wants but what the community wants."